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White House urges Muslim Brotherhood winner in Egypt vote to respect minorities

June 24, 2012: Egyptians celebrate the victory of Mohammed Morsi in the presidential election in Tahrir square, Cairo, Egypt.AP

The White House on Sunday urged Egypt's newly elected president to respect the rights of religious minorities, amid concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate's win marked a shift toward Islamist rule. 

In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney congratulated Mohammed Morsi on his victory. 

"We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States," Carney said. 

But he urged Morsi to take steps to "advance national unity" in forming a new government, and protect the country's non-Muslim population. 

"We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens -- including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians," Carney said. "Millions of Egyptians voted in the election, and President-elect Morsi and the new Egyptian government have both the legitimacy and responsibility of representing a diverse and courageous citizenry."

Later in the day, President Obama called Morsi to congratulate him on his victory, underscoring that the U.S. will continue to support Egypt's transition into democracy. The two leaders affirmed their commitment to advancing the many shared interests between the countries, agreeing to stay in close touch in the coming weeks and months.

Morsi defeated Ahmed Shafiq, who was prime minister under ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. The election demonstrated the rapid political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood over the past year -- the group had been officially banned from office under Mubarak. 

The election results sharply divided lawmakers on Capitol Hill. 

On his Facebook page, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., urged Obama to "cut off" U.S. aid to Egypt and "repudiate the Muslim Brotherhood." 

"A year ago there were those of us who warned the Obama administration of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt. We were castigated as alarmists and loose cannons. Today our predictions have come to reality and the ominous specter reminding us of the Iranian revolution is evident," he wrote. "Clearly the Arab Spring is nothing more than a radical Islamic nightmare. Now we need to unequivocally reiterate our support to the Coptic Christians and Israel." 

But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sided more with the White House in urging continued engagement with Egypt. 

"Egypt remains a key partner for the United States, a leader in the region, and a bellwether for the long-term meaning of the Arab Spring," Kerry said in a statement. "Obviously American concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood's past statements and positions are widely shared and well understood. But it would be a mistake for us to pull back from our engagement with a free and democratic Egypt. This is a time to test intentions, not to prejudge them."

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